Word-less ordinary

audio for sermon “Word-less ordinary” by Martin Malina
The trees say it all” (photo by Martin Malina, Gillies Grove Arnprior, December 2022)

I know a retired pastor who, for most of the funeral sermons he gave over the course of his ministry, he entitled his sermon: “Chapters of So-and-So’s Life”. And he would proceed, simply, to tell the story of the deceased’s life from beginning to end.

In remembering a loved one who has died, families will often recount in their minds and conversations with one another their story. Not just the last years before they died. But their whole life, including life-changing events, youthful adventures, closest friends, their accomplishments and failures, where they travelled, interesting experiences—from every chapter of their life.

You would think the Gospels in the Bible would do the same for Jesus. But they don’t. Except for the first two chapters in only two of the four Gospels telling the Christmas story[1], we only have the last three years of Jesus’ life. I used to think that’s because that’s all we needed. But there’s more to that.

20th century educator, author and management consultant, Peter Drucker, once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” The art of ‘reading in between the lines’ is what is sometimes called for if we are to understand the whole truth of the matter. Can we as people of faith become non-verbally smarter? Can we hear for and learn to pay attention as much to what isn’t written than what is? Because the words we don’t have have just as much to ‘say’—perhaps even more.

When it comes to what is presented in the Gospels about Jesus’ life, we need to come to terms with the fact that Jesus remained anonymous and largely invisible for the first thirty years of his life—most of his years on earth. What do we make of that? What is the significance of most of Jesus’ life being absent from the biblical narrative?

Some authors have written fictional accounts, piecing together and extrapolating from what we do know about Jesus and his relationships and places where he lived. Christopher Moore[2] and Sue Monk Kidd[3] are two contemporary authors who have attempted to describe what may have happened in those invisible years of Jesus’ life after his birth. Because we don’t really know, for sure. We can only imagine.

I appreciate this effort nonetheless because in Jesus, “God became part of our small, homely world.” In Jesus, God “entered into human limits and ordinariness.” Throughout those thirty years, Jesus spent little time becoming noticed. For most of his life, he was no celebrity. Far from it. He climbed no ladder of success. In the words of Saint Paul, he didn’t consider his divinity as something to be grasped and flaunted for all to see.

Rather, Jesus spent most of his life embracing his common humanity. He spent a lot of time descending, “emptying himself and becoming as all humans are” (Philippians 2:7), “tempted in every way that we are” (Hebrews 4:15) and “living in the limitations of weakness” (Hebrews 5:2). Jesus walked, enjoyed, and suffered the entire human journey.[4] He was ordinary, like us.

When Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist,[5] we see the heavens opened, the dove descends, and we hear the voice of God: “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Traditionally we hear these words as a launching point for Jesus’ public ministry. We consider God’s words as a stamp of approval on the missional purpose of what Jesus will do—as divine Son of God. We perceive this event in light of the goal—what Christ will achieve on the cross and by the empty tomb at the end of his three-year ministry.

As we stand on the banks of the Jordan River witnessing this divine event of Jesus’ baptism, I wonder if we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a step back for a moment.

Because what we perceive in Jesus is not an individual, autonomous God. We need to remember Jesus is in constant relationship within the Triune God: three persons in one. We know Jesus often related in prayer to God whom he called “Abba”[6]—Father. We know Jesus often reminded his listeners that if they have ‘seen’ him, they have ‘seen’ the Father. The “Father and I are one” Jesus prayed. And, in the bond of the Holy Spirit, Christians appreciate God as fundamentally relational.

When it comes to Christ Jesus, he has been “from the beginning”[7] in union with God. They have been talking with each other from the beginning of time. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—they are dancing together in relationship since the creation of the world.

It strikes me that if there is any stamp of approval at Jesus’ baptism, it has more to do with recognizing the life Jesus has already lived to that point—his first thirty years. God calls Jesus “beloved” for making it this far as a human being. For the divine Christ has embraced his ordinariness, in journeying the path we all take. “Good job! We’ve done well!” I can hear God say at Jesus’ baptism.

I wonder if there isn’t a call here for us to embrace our own humanity. As St Irenaeus is known to have advised in the 2nd century: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”[8] If God’s glory is humanity fully alive, our lives must mean something important to God. 

In other words, there is something holy about the ordinary. Each ordinary moment. Every unnoticed action. What isn’t said about us. Every ordinary conversation. Each word we use and don’t use. Every ordinary decision we make in the routines of living. Our whole lives have brought us to these moments of time that are pregnant with God’s loving presence, in Christ Jesus. Even the painful, sorrowful ones.

Let us live our ordinary lives to the fullest—as God intends—so that we, with Jesus, can also hear God’s words spoken to each one of us: “You are my beloved and in you I am well pleased.”

[1] Matthew and Luke

[2] Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2004).

[3] Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings (Penguin Books, 2021).

[4] Richard Rohr, “Incarnation” in Daily Meditations (www.cac.org, 19 December 2022).

[5] Matthew 3:13-17

[6] John 17

[7] John 1

[8] Attributed to St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in what is now France in the last quarter of the 2nd century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s